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Women's History Month: Dr. Collene Taylor - A Path to Healing and Empowerment in Mental Health

Updated: Mar 21

Hope and healing comes in many forms. One of those forms is Dr. Collene Taylor, founder of WithU Counseling in Rockford. Her story, woven with threads of resilience, spirituality, and unwavering commitment, illuminates the path for those navigating the complexities of mental health.

Dr. Taylor's narrative is not just about her professional milestones but also her personal evolution and the profound impact of her work on her and the community at large.

Early Beginnings and the Spark of Passion

Dr. Taylor's journey into mental health was serendipitous, marked by an unexpected realization of her innate ability to connect and heal. Originally from Jamaica, she found her way to Rockford through a series of educational and professional steps, each playing a pivotal role in her eventual career choice.

Reflecting on the origins of her journey, Dr. Taylor shared, “My parents moved to Wisconsin, and from there, I went to school in Milwaukee and Brown Deer. From there, I went to college at the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater, and then found Rockford."

Her path was not linear. Initially focused on sociology, it was her role as a Coordinator for six group homes in Wisconsin that revealed her true calling. A turning point came when a young lady at one of the homes consistently ran away. Dr. Taylor's approach to understanding the underlying issues demonstrated her natural aptitude for counseling. 

"We get her [to] come into the office, have a conversation with her and say, 'What's going on?' and just being comfortable, being able to figure out and have her say, 'Okay, I can share with you.’” 

This breakthrough propelled her to further her education and training in counseling, setting the stage for her future endeavors. One of those endeavors finally brought her to Rockford, when she began working for Janet Wattles Center. She remained with Janet Wattles after Rosecrance acquired the agency in 2011.

WithU Counseling: A Name with Meaning

The inception of WithU Counseling was as much a spiritual journey as it was a professional one. The name itself, inspired during a visit to her father in North Carolina, encapsulates Dr. Taylor's therapeutic philosophy – a promise of unwavering support and companionship on her clients' mental health journeys. 

"I was talking with my sister and went out to work with her just to see what she does. I was like, 'Man, what's the name? I've been praying about it.' - 'I'm with you, right? If I'm with you, individuals will be with you.' And, I say, 'That is cute.' Just listening to that still, quiet voice to be able to say, ‘Hey, I’m with you. So, you should go out and do it.’”

This moment of clarity gave birth to a name that would become synonymous with care, support, and understanding.

A Multi-state Approach to Counseling

A unique aspect of Dr. Taylor’s credentials is that she’s licensed to practice in five states: Illinois, Florida, Alabama, Texas, and Arizona. The decision extends her reach and impact, not just in one city, but across the country. Each one of those states, though, was chosen for a reason.

“I was deciding to move to each of those states. I thought that would be helpful to be able to have my license prior to me moving in." 

This strategic choice has allowed her to offer her services to a broader clientele, adapting to the evolving landscape of telehealth and the increasing need for accessible mental health services across state lines.

Mentorship & Influence

Throughout her career, Dr. Taylor has been guided and influenced by a constellation of mentors. These individuals have not only shaped her professional trajectory, but have also instilled in her the values of empathy, resilience, and leadership. 

"I have many mentors that have shaped me into who I am today," she stated, listing names like Shirley Butler, Dr. Elizabeth Ogunsola, Dr. Ramycia McGhee, Freda Briscoe, and Mary Ann Abate among others who have left an indelible mark on her journey.

“Just to be able to have that connection - to be able to bounce ideas off and just to get a different viewpoints on things.”

Dr. Taylor shared a personal story about Betty Bartos, her supervisor at Janet Wattles:

“When I first started working for Janet Wattles, Betty Bartos was my supervisor. I was working with a very, very, very, very difficult client. And, so just to be able to take the initiative to say, ‘Hey, I'm up for this challenge in order to guide, in order to coach, in order to give coping mechanisms to this individual to be able to make a life worth living for herself. Betty's constant approach to say, ‘Collene, you got this.’ Just that nudging to say, ‘Hey, you can do this, you're doing well,’ made a big impact."

Challenges and Triumphs

Dr. Taylor's path has not been without its challenges. As a female therapist and a woman of color, she has navigated the complexities of her profession with grace and determination. Yet, she considers these aspects of her identity to have been sources of strength rather than struggle. 

"I believe my ability to connect has always been a guide that I have not had any hindrance in my ability to be able to be a female, to be able to be a therapist in this area."

Dr. Taylor has held leadership positions at multiple organizations. Oftentimes, she is the lone black, female in the room. But, that has never changed her approach to being treated as an equal.

“I'm showing up and being authentically myself. When I show up, my thing is I command the room. I'm not commanding it as far as I'm in charge… I'm being open and I'm being honest and I'm prepared. Right? You can't go into the room and you're unprepared… Go back and double check and triple check to make sure what I'm speaking on that I know what I'm speaking on and I amplify what I'm speaking, and I send out Grace when I'm speaking it.

Dr. Taylor is also an accomplished author. She has written Give Yourself Permission, Prayers from Above: 40 Days of Declarations, and It’s In You… It’s in Reach Inspirational Quotes.

Looking Ahead

As Dr. Taylor reflects on her journey and looks to the future, her message to those considering a career in mental health is clear: Understand your why, seek guidance, and embrace the journey with an open heart. 

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Dr. Taylor says her fellow therapists need to practice what they preach by prioritizing self-care.

“I like music, I like reading, I like talking to individual, I love traveling, I love journaling. That's where I get my release from”

Dr. Collene Taylor's story, from the spark of realization in a group home in Wisconsin to the founding of WithU Counseling, is a beacon of hope and a testament to the power of dedication, empathy, and unwavering support. Through her work, she continues to touch lives, shape futures, and contribute to the broader narrative of mental health awareness and support.

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